F.A.C.E.S. supports families and children with autism

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 7, 2014 

F.A.C.E.S. students play with a parachute in Zuanich Park in July, 2013.

BREE BACHTEL — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released new numbers on the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders indicating that as many as 1-in-68 children have an autism spectrum disorder in this country.

Autism continues to be the most widely diagnosed childhood disorder in the world, yet, sadly, the majority of Americans are uninformed as to what it is like to view the world through the lens of an individual with autism, or a parent of a child with autism.

Families for Autistic Children's Education and Support, known as F.A.C.E.S., a nonprofit organization, was founded in 1997 by a group of local parents. These parents were frustrated that there were no recreational or educational summer programs that supported the special needs of their children with autism. These parents noticed that their children stagnated or regressed over the summer, making the entrance back to school in the fall all the more stressful. So, F.A.C.E.S. Northwest was born.

I was 36 when I had Brooke. I was so excited to be pregnant that I did everything by the book. I exercised, ate well, gained the right amount of weight, didn't drink a drop of alcohol, went to all of my prenatal appointments, etc. Brooke was born and we were immediately in love.

Other than being off the chart tall, she was totally meeting all growth and basic milestones for her age. Around 2 years old, we noticed change. Blank stares, lack of joint attention, not answering her name, loss of verbal skills, spinning, flapping, lining things up, obsessive grouping of items, and behavioral outbursts.

At first, you think, "This must be the terrible twos." Then you figure she is sick and will snap out of it when she feels better. You assume it all will pass.

It doesn't. You make all kinds of excuses because you are in denial that anything can be "wrong" with your child. After all, you have done everything "right."

Then you get hit with it; "Your daughter is autistic." So, you read everything and you try everything to make her not have autism anymore. Then you hear it is genetic, even though there is no such thing as a genetic epidemic. Then you hear it is parenting, or lack of it. Then you hear it is caused by everything under the sun.

One thing remains the same; your kid has social and educational needs that are different from other kids. No matter what "caused" the autism, that fact remains constant.

So now we enter school. Most kids with autism have noticeable behavior, distracting behavior, attention issues, and outbursts. We work with the schools to help mainstream them the best we can to routine and academics. But then that wonderful thing called summer break happens, and all of that routine and social skills-building gets put on the back burner for close to three months.

That is where F.A.C.E.S. comes in. Not only does it provide academic structure and social skills, it exposes the kids to the community and experiences that they can't get in school. The camp keeps them engaged mentally, physically and socially.

The best part is that at school they get the nudges and stares from other kids because of their odd behaviors. At F.A.C.E.S., they are flapping, jumping and making strange noises right along with their buddies. They are in a group that completely understands and accepts them.

I have seen Brooke play better with kids at F.A.C.E.S. than with her "typical" friends. Best yet, school in the fall went smooth as silk, and on days when Brooke fights going to school, I just tell her she has to go to school in order to go to F.A.C.E.S. in the summer - battle over. For me, F.A.C.E.S. lets me work and get a break from being super-mom 24/7.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and you can help children with autism attend summer camp by donating or attending the F.A.C.E.S. Sixth Annual Autism Auction and Dinner, Saturday, April 19, at Bellingham Golf & Country Club. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit facesnorthwest.com or call 360-389-2151.

Crissy Impero is the mother of Brooke, who will be participating in her second summer in the F.A.C.E.S. program.

Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.shirley@bellinghamherald.com.

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